Victoria Shah and Jerome Warfield Sr. have been picked by the Board of Police Commissioners to fill two big roles. The board hopes these hires can help eliminate the citizen complaint backlog that hit a high of 850 complaints last year. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners has selected candidates for its vacant board secretary and chief investigator posts and hopes to have the jobs filled in the coming weeks.

The board on Thursday voted to offer the secretary position to Victoria Shah, a former candidate for the commission’s District 7, and the job as chief investigator to Jerome Warfield Sr., a west side pastor and former commissioner for the police board. 

The board’s decision comes after its personnel and training subcommittee conducted interviews earlier this month. Each commissioner selected three candidates for each position and Shah and Warfield were ultimately the recommended hires. The salary range for the positions is $80,922 to $135,008. 

Commissioner Jesus Hernandez, an at-large commissioner and chair of the personnel and training subcommittee, said the board wanted to move with urgency. 

“We’ve tried to fill these positions a few different times now,” Hernandez said earlier in the hiring process, “it really shouldn’t have to take this long.”

During Thursday’s meeting, Hernandez said once they formally accept, he expects Shah and Warfield will start their new jobs by Feb. 27 “at the earliest.” 

The board has moved quickly to get new staffers in place to avoid legal problems and contain a long-standing backlog of citizen complaints. Melanie White had served as interim secretary and Lawrence Akbar as interim chief investigator for about three years before the city’s Law Department urged the board to find full-time replacements for the pair, noting that their continued tenure was a violation of the City Charter. 

Under White and Akbar, the citizen complaint backlog hit a high in July of 850 cases older than 90 days. White said at the time that the board was looking at ways to improve the situation at OCI. She along with others at BOPC attributed staffing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic as a big part of the reason cases weren’t being closed more quickly. 

Akbar and White aimed to resolve the backlog by the end of 2022. Today, there are about 311 cases older than 90 days remaining, according to supervising investigator Ainsley Cromwell.

BOPC officials said Akbar and White stepped down from their interim roles before the close of 2022 and have resumed former jobs with the board and Office of the Chief Investigator (OCI), respectively. 

Hernandez said during candidate interviews this month that he hopes within their first 90 days on the job, the new secretary will meet with community stakeholders, identify staffing needs and review the board’s policies and procedures. For the chief investigator’s first 90 days, Hernandez said, the focus should be on eliminating the complaint backlog and conducting an audit of the board processes and staff. 

Shah unsuccessfully campaigned in 2021 to be the police commissioner for District 7 on the city’s west side. Despite losing the race, she regularly attends board meetings and makes public comments, offering suggestions for how the board can improve its transparency and community input. 

Shah said she is “super excited” to be the new secretary and get community members engaged.

“We need to get the community out at the meetings,” Shah told BridgeDetroit following Thursday’s meeting, “and one of the first things I want to do is start having some conversations with the community to find out why they’re not coming. 

“There’s something about the meetings because sometimes we have people come in and they don’t come back,” she added. “So what is it about the meetings where we’re not attracting the community? What does the community want to see in these meetings?”

Warfield, a pastor at Unity Baptist Church, was previously a commissioner between 2009 and 2013, serving as board chair for two of those four years. Warfield declined to comment Thursday because he hasn’t officially been offered or accepted the job.

During his interview at the board’s subcommittee, Warfield said he is no stranger to a citizen complaint backlog. During his time on the board, he said, there was a backlog that he helped manage. He believes the best way to cut down on complaints is to change the culture of the city’s police department. 

“One of the reasons that DPD was under (a) consent decree and OCI was under a consent decree was that the culture was wrong, and because this culture had festered itself into a cancer that almost ate itself, ate the department itself alive,” Warfield said during his interview. 

In his interview, Warfield also mentioned he would like for citizens to be able to file complaints through a smartphone app to simplify the process. 

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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